Butterfly Garden Plants

Plant a butterfly garden! If there were a beauty contest for insects, butterflies would win by a landslide. Most butterflies live for only a few weeks in their glamorous, winged stage of life. Most of their lifespan is spent in other stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, then adult (with wings). Monarch caterpillar fattens up on a milkweed plant. In the chrysalis stage, the monarch caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly. Photo by Greyson Orlando. The adult monarch butterfly frees herself from her chrysalis, which has turned transparent. Photo by Captain-tucker, Wikimedia Commons The female lays her eggs on a plant for a good reason. The caterpillar that hatches from the egg uses the plant as food, eating almost enough for a lifetime. During the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar transforms into an adult. This transformation is called metamorphosis. Then, the adult butterfly feeds on fruits or the nectar of flowers. This garden is planted with native flowering plants. Picky eaters But butterflies and their caterpillars can’t eat just any plant. Many are very picky. They must eat whatever plants have evolved along with them in their own neighborhoods. There are over 45,000 species of butterflies. Each species evolved eating the flowering plants that grew in their own neighborhoods. Over tens of millions of years, the butterflies and their favorite plants have lived happily together. But then people came along and mixed up the plants. They brought new plants from other parts of the world and planted them as crops or gardens or road landscaping. Some of these plants grew so well that they started to choke out the native plants. Lots of native plants got bulldozed away so people could build houses or shopping malls or ball parks. Even in the city parks and gardens, the green lawns and flowers and trees were not natives. Trees and flowers growing in California may have evolved in Africa or Australia! But, alas, many of the native butterflies couldn’t eat these foreign plants. And the ones they could eat were getting harder to find. So their populations dwindled. Actually, 90% of insect species can eat only the plants that are native to their own regions. Feed the hungry butterflies But we can help them! You can plant a butterfly garden. It is just a matter of finding out what plants used to grow in your own back yard before people came. You may be able to find a book or website describing the native plants of your location. Then, find a nursery or website that sells the seeds or the plants. You will need nectar plants for the adult butterflies and host plants for the caterpillars. For example, many species of adult butterflies feed on the nectar of milkweed flowers. But, only monarch caterpillars can eat the milkweed plant itself. Milkweed is common and widespread, so monarch butterflies are widespread as well. Make a garden of your local butterflies’ favorite foods and you will have a beautiful garden of flowers and butterflies. And don’t cut off those flowers when they look dead. Leave them alone so they can turn into seeds or berries to feed the native birds. Your garden will help the butterflies and the plants and the birds to continue to live happily ever after. We all just want to get along together. Bees are another threatened insect. They are hard workers and we would really miss them if they disappeared. Find out more and make a big bee!
butterfly garden plants 1

Butterfly Garden Plants

Butterflies are some of the most beautiful and interesting creatures on Earth. By planting a butterfly garden with all of the right kinds of plants and flowers that butterflies love to feed on and lay eggs on, you will certainly have a yard full of butterflies throughout the growing season. Butterfly gardens can be any size – a window box, part of your landscaped yard, or even a wild untended area on your property. Creating a butterfly garden should start with some serious research to learn which kinds of butterflies are native to your area. You can learn that from our article “Butterfly Gardening by Area”. Make a list of all of the different kinds of butterflies you would like to attract, and then learn which flowers and plants they both feed on and lay eggs on. All of the plants will certainly be native to your area and therefore easy to grow with the right conditions and care. Adult butterflies will visit for a longer period if they find plants to lay their eggs on. These are called ‘Host Plants’ and you can read about them in our article on “Butterfly Host Plants.” Once you have done your research and know which kinds of plants you need, you should learn about the plants and flowers. What do they look like? How tall do they grow? What conditions do they thrive in? Perhaps print small pictures from the internet of each plant and flower so that you can begin to plan your butterfly garden by placing the pictures in the order in which you will want to plant them. In this way you can get a very good estimate of how much room you will need, and what your finished butterfly garden will look like.
butterfly garden plants 2

Butterfly Garden Plants

Check with a local greenhouse about getting these plants and flowers. Find out which ones are annuals and which are perennials. You may want to plant the annuals in the front of the garden or away from garden fencing because they will need to be replaced each year. Perennials will come back year after year so these should be near the back of the butterfly garden and left alone to grow and thrive. If your local greenhouse cannot get you the plants you need, check in catalogs that sell bulbs or online and order them. Be sure to learn when and how to best plant them, especially if you must purchase bulbs and start the plants from scratch. You can add some butterfly garden accessories like a Butterfly House, which has slots the ideal size for keeping birds out while giving butterflies protection from the wind and weather, and are beautiful garden decorations. You could offer an additional nectar source close by to supplement your flowers. By providing both the food and shelter butterflies need you can prolong the butterfly’s stay in your garden and draw in others. Once you have designed and started your butterfly garden, you can be proud that you have made a habitat for butterflies in your own yard, which helps with the conservation of the many species of quickly disappearing butterflies today. You will certainly want to place your favorite outdoor furniture near so that you can enjoy all of your visitors day after day.
butterfly garden plants 3

Butterfly Garden Plants

While shopping for garden plants, you will encounter many plants labeled “butterfly friendly.” These labels are most likely telling the truth and if you choose plants labeled for butterfly gardens, they will attract butterflies. Most likely, though, these plants are nectar plants, marketed for their bright blooms, and will not provide for the caterpillar stage of a butterfly’s life.  Although many flowering plants provide nectar to butterflies, it is worth doing a little research to find you what plants attract the most butterflies in your area.  Just as growing conditions vary by location, so do the popularity of butterfly nectar plants. Some plants will serve as both nectar and caterpillar food plants and it may be worth searching out some of these double duty offerings.
butterfly garden plants 4

Butterfly Garden Plants

I have two questions. I don’t know whether they have been talked about here or not. #1. My daughter (lives in SE Wisconsin) sent me seeds from her milkweed (I live in SW Missouri). I planted them and put the pots in the garden to winter over as you suggested.) I got 13 which came up. Since then, I’ve transplanted them in my NEW butterfly garden and they are doing great. Unfortunately, I don’t know the species. My question is – will they bloom the first year? Do they multiply from seed or from root systems or both? #2. I saw my first Monarch migration in many years last fall (most likely due to the butterfly bush I had planted). I have 5 this year. How do the butterflies (caterpillars) know where to find the milkweed? By sight, smell? I have the milkweeds scattered through the garden in groups of 2-3 in a bunch. I can’t remember the last time I saw milkweed here. What do the Monarch butterfly eggs look like? The butterfly garden we did this year is 4′ x 32″. I have 5 butterfly bushes, Monarda, Gailardia, Asters, Phlox, Echinacea, Liatris, Coreopsis, Scabiosa, lillies, lavender, parsley, chives, pineapple sage, sedum, verbena, marigolds, button flower, Pentas, lantana and a geranium. Next year I hope to add Joe Pye weed. Should I add more types of milkweed that would do well for this area? Oops, I think that was more than a couple of questions. I guess I should get to reading more – but sometimes all the info just seems overwhelming. I did see a lone Monarch flying around the front yard yesterday. The butterfly garden is in the BACK yard! Thanks for any help you can give this “old, senior citizen”!

Butterfly Garden Plants

Butterfly Garden Plants
Butterfly Garden Plants

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *